Blasphemous Art

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by D_Tim McGnaw, Jun 26, 2010.

  1. D_Tim McGnaw

    D_Tim McGnaw Account Disabled

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    In response to the Jackhammer Jesus dildo thread I thought I'd see what people thought about art which is considered blasphemous, though I recongise that thread wasn't about art per se.

    It's sort of doubly interesting for me, because a) Ireland recently introduced anti-blasphemy laws which our government claimed were necessitated by certain provisions of the constitution but which had unaccountably been forgotten to be legislated for until now, and the resulting controversy has lead the government to promise a referendum to change the constitution so that these laws (already introduced) will no longer be necessary. and

    b) As a professional artist I have produced work which some could and some have considered blasphemous. My interest in religious art and the power and beauty and universality it is capable of encapsulating has always intrigued me as have issues to do with sexuality and our reactions to it in art. Despite my personal views on religion my intention in creating these works was not to offend or cause outrage but to explore certain ideas about art by using some of the most powerful visual languages humans have created combined with some of the most basic subconscious motivations humans respond to, and to this day I am completely seduced by religious art of a wide variety of kinds and consider much of its greatest works to be among the greatest works of art humankind has ever produced. I might not revere god but I revere religious art.

    I did work in college which was a combination of jewellery and painting, it combined tiny miniature paintings of naked men in clearly sexualised poses and various states of arousal incorporated into objects which had a quasi-religious symbolism attached to them which at first glance merely appeared to be lovely pieces of Byzantine inspired liturgical looking jewellery until one got up close to the miniatures and realised that the pieces weren't in fact religious at all, though perhaps they still were you couldn't quite be sure.

    I went on to exhibit pieces after college which combined similar ideas about unexpected combinations of sexual and religious imagery which explored ideas about potent visual languages capable of communicating simple ideas across cultural divides and despite social or cultural differences. I don't produce work of this kind now because my concerns have changed somewhat, but I remain fascinated by the very primal and instinctive responses almost all humans have to certain kinds of visual cue and the subconscious languages these cues are part of.

    I remember one or two people being shocked by some of the work I used to exhibit, though that was genuinely never my intention, but who knows? I might have found myself falling foul of the law if I was still producing it now, though no one has been prosecuted for blasphemy in Ireland yet to my knowledge.

    My question I suppose is this, what concern is greater? Should the sensitivities of those who follow a faith be respected at all costs, or should we be free to challenge ourselves and ask questions about being human even if in doing that we cause offense to people of faith? How far should respect for religious sensitivities be taken, should people who offend those who follow religion be open to prosecution?




    Here's an link to an interesting site about the Irish campaign for repeal of our blasphemy laws btw- http://blasphemy.ie/
     
    #1 D_Tim McGnaw, Jun 26, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2010
  2. JustAsking

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    I don't think religous points of view should be protected or respected any more than any other points of view. In fact, religious points of view, being based on the interpretnation of received knowledge is capable of causing a lot of harm.

    As a Lutheran, I am pretty inclusive when it comes to the world's major religions, but I am very critical of religous fundamentalism.

    And not only am I critical of such things as scientific creationism and Intelligent Design, I spend a lot of time and energy publically challenging them for their rampant intellectual dishonesty. I don't respect anyone who thinks it is ok to be lying for Jesus.

    I don't have any problem with blasphemous art, either. I do have a problem with the suppression of the expression of any ideas.
     
    #2 JustAsking, Jun 26, 2010
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  3. D_Tim McGnaw

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    Have you ever been offended by art which used religious imagery yourself?

    I ask because one of the defining characteristics of blasphemous art is that for it to even be blasphemous it needs someone to call it blasphemous.

    Plenty of art which was intended to be seen as blasphemous has for whatever reason never been viewed in that light and has gone under the religious-radar, and plenty of art which was never intended to blaspheme has been subjected to the outrage of those of faith.

    I mean the opposite is also true but I think one of the things this highlights about blasphemy is the extent to which it is accusatory, if no one ever calls something blasphemous then its as likely no one will ever think of it as blasphemous, while the minute the tag is applied to something that tag will follow it everywhere and forever.


    Edit: oops think you were editing while I was posting this, I think you might have answered my first question. :)
     
  4. maxcok

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    Justice Stewart notwithstanding, what is blasphemous is completely subjective, just as what is obscene and what is pornographic.

    One need look no higher than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where prudish popes had diapers painted over Michaelangelo's masterpiece.

    The recent restoration of the fresco revealed many of the offending phalli to the light of day, though inexplicably many remained covered.

    Some things never change.

    Please move to Texas and run for the school board.
     
  5. B_Hickboy

    B_Hickboy New Member

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    I'm a Lutheran, too, and although I probably don't believe everything JustAsking believes, I've found over the last few years that there's quite a bit of overlap between his beliefs and mine.

    The only thing I might add to what JA's said is not a statement but a question: What end is served by intentionally going out of one's way to attack something that a lot of people hold dear? Where's the good in it? I agree that people need to be shaken out of their lethargy occasionally, but attacking another person's religion or belief system is the penultimate incivility.
     
  6. JustAsking

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    I just looked in on the Jackhammer Jesus Dildo thread. As I said in the previous post, I don't believe in the suppression of the expression of any ideas, blasphemous or not. However, no one should be surprised that some people find that offensive.

    I do think that a lot of Christians have an excessively gnostic leaning reverence for Jesus that probably mischaracterizes him. Plenty of Christians want their Jesus blond, blue-eyed, nordic looking and pristine. And they do this with the notion in mind that anything worldly is corrupt and unworthy of being in the vicinity of Jesus.

    I think they miss something essential in that kind of reverence. Consider that Jesus was born to an ignorant unwed mother in a pig trough in the middle of nowhere. And he ends up submitting to the natural processes of the universe including human petty politics. There is a huge message of Kenosis there that most people miss.

    If one were to ask Jesus what he thinks about even the most nastiest aspects of the world (far beyond crucifix dildos), he would probably say, "I died for the whole world, not just the good parts."

    In many very large churches there is a special plumbing drain system for pouring out the remaining wine in the communion chalices. The separate system empties out into the ground or something so as to avoid the consecrated wine mixing with the sewerage in the regular drain system.

    I think if one asked Jesus about that, he would say, "I think you people have completely missed the point."

    It is no small thing that the communion elements and baptismal elements are very basic and earthy items like water, wine, and bread.
     
  7. Gillette

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    If required to protect the sensitivities of peoples of faith there will soon be little room for any creativity at all.

    You couldn't even do religious art as depictions of, say, Christ's resurrection, would offend those of faiths that don't believe such occurred. No Easter Bunny because it might offend those who don't feel a rabbit should be linked to a religious event. Where would it end?

    Would it just apply to new art created or would we be required to destroy all art already in existence that is found offensive on religious grounds?

    I think it's a pretty scary notion. I hope the law is repealed.
     
  8. D_Tim McGnaw

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    That's true to an extent, but public reactions to art can be driven by collectivised thinking to some degree or another. You see mass outcry at the exhibitions of some artists, protests and campaigns etc.

    While doubtless individual reactions to art are bound to be subjective, humans being social animals will often develop secondary attitudes informed by the peer group they feel most connected to, this is often very apparent in people who follow organised religions or who follow strict political ideologies.

    I did have a picketer outside one of my exhibitions, who hadn't seen my pieces at all but had read a review of another exhibition I'd had a year earlier (how he found the review I will never know since even I never saw it so tiny was the circulation of the publication in question). He'd been told by his priest that my art was blasphemous when they guy had asked him about it, so this poor chap turned up in the pissing rain and cold to stand outside and heckle the people who came to my opening night.

    I actually felt really sorry for him so I went out and gave him a cup of tea and asked him to come in but he point blank refused to be in the same space as anything he considered to be an affront to god. He seemed fairly rational surprisingly enough (to me) and it was interesting to meet someone who responded even without having seen my work in such a strong way, which was informative in itself I suppose.
     
  9. JustAsking

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    I guess I can't defend a crucifix dildo. And it is uncivil because it will surely offend a lot of people. And neither do I think it has any redeeming social value.

    But none of those things are grounds for suppressing artistic expression, and the fact that it has religous overtones doesn't change my feeling that much except for the fact that many will be offended.

    In other news, I was kind of glad this statue of Jesus got hit by lightning. I hated that thing.

    My only regret was that the lightning missed the Creation Museum just down the road a piece in Kentucky.
     
  10. JustAsking

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    A law like that gives too much power to religion over the public sphere. Growing up in a country with a Constitutional mandate for government to be neutral on religion makes me very wary of something like an anti-blasphemy law. And also growing up in a country that has a lot of religous fundamentalists I am especially wary of a law like that.
     
  11. D_Tim McGnaw

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    Well I think I have the same view of art which has no other purpose than to offend religious people but for slightly different reasons.

    I think the reason that art which has no other purpose than to offend religious people is a bit like art which is intended to express nothing but political ideas, propaganda etc.

    It lacks subtext, it doesn't do anything but shout a big simple message which no one will really listen to anyway. It's sort of absent ideas, it lacks humanity. It doesn't ask a question it answers one, and normally one which no one had asked anyway.

    I mean the work I used to produce was perhaps shocking to some, but it wasn't intended to be so, it was exploring other ideas, and though as an artist you can never say "Oh they just didn't get it" because every response to a work of art is a valid one and part of the how the work lives beyond the artist's imagination, I don't think I would have concerned myself with civility either if I felt the work demanded I be deliberately uncivil in order to explore some fascination I might have had.

    I mean if I had produced work which I intended to be doing nothing but offend then I would be happy that it had done nothing but offend and very disappointed if it didn't, but since that wasn't what I was doing I would have been very disappointed with myself if all that I'd achieved was offending most or all of those who'd seen my work rather than communicated what I was really trying to get across to at least some of those who saw it.

    I mean free speach and free expression includes the right to offend, even if we don't think that most of the time the only kind of free speech and expression would be offensive.
     
    #11 D_Tim McGnaw, Jun 26, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2010
  12. StrictlyAvg

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    I find such unquestioning views on something so subjective to be rather sad, and as you say, such is where collective thinking in some cases degrades into mob mentality.

    If someone feels they are so weak they cannot be in the same room as a piece of art without being corrupted by it what does that say about them? He'd allowed someone he trusted to form an opinion about something subjective - it even sounds likely the priest himself had never viewed the art in question - and steadfastly refused to view it with his own eyes and make up his own mind on it.

    It's not like picketing an abortion clininc or an animal experimentation lab where you can have an objective opinion on the activities taking place there.
     
    #12 StrictlyAvg, Jun 27, 2010
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  13. StrictlyAvg

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    Attacking someone's religion or belief system is, I agree an uncivil thing to do.

    But when this Jackhammer thing is deemed offensive because it is based on an icon that likely bears little resemblance to what it represents anyway, then is questioning the iconography actually attacking the religion? Likewise the text that sends the religious message has been picked apart and used to whatever ends Christian and anti-Christian groups have wanted ad infinitum over the years. Is questioning an ultra-conservative's view of the text and the selective quotes they may pull out to support their beliefs attacking their faith or attacking their lack of humanity in holding those beliefs?
     
  14. StrictlyAvg

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    Yes, those many nuances and subtleties can be applied to satire and comedy too.
     
  15. Drifterwood

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    Sometimes it can just be funny.
     

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  16. Autofellatio

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    If you ask me, artists should be given total freedom to create their art.

    Nude paintings are merely studies into the beauty of the human body's natural form, and erotica-based art may be useful for insights into human sexuality.

    To consider art in any form to be blasphemous might be a tad extreme, but I'll concede that some pieces might have uncanny resemblances to religious icons. Still, why blow such an issue out of proportion? Don't like, don't look.

    Let me just sum it up by saying that in my humble opinion, art is in the end, purely open to interpretation, hence no one should take it too seriously.
     
  17. D_Tim McGnaw

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    You see that's why I think that the assessment of the viewer of a work of art isn't quite as subjective as we would expect it to be. I think part of how people react to all art is collective, we all think about what we imagine people whose opinion we value might think about things not least about art.

    If you add to this that organised religions do tend to encourage a certain amount of group-think you get collective responses to art which deals with religious imagery quite easily. I always think of poor Caravaggio when I think about this effect.

    His work has been viewed as more or less profane and homoerotic rather than devotional and sacred because its subject matter when dealing with religious themes has always been presumed to be sexual images of men. At least part of this view of his work comes from the reactions of those who commissioned these works in the first place. He worked a lot for the Papal court in Rome during the Counter Reformation, which meant that his work was out of step with a church which was actively censoring its own art to insure it contained images which conformed as tightly as possible to the doctrines of a militant and highly paranoid revision of Catholic theology.

    Caravaggio admired Michelangelo above all other artists and in his mold he saw the divine in the human very clearly, and rather than depict divinity as inhuman and transcendent he depicted divinity as worldly and hyper-human. He didn't do what a lot of his contemporary Baroque Mannerist artists did and depict Divinity as almost surreal and humanity as super-human.

    As a result his work was remarkably unpopular despite the fact that his genius was widely recognised. Many of those for whom he worked felt the weight of the church's collective view of his kind of art which they associated with the Renaissance decline in papal authority and moral credibility and so his art was condemned as profane and blasphemous and many of his commissions were hidden away in embarrassment or quietly moved in to darkly lit, out of the way churches and monasteries where people expected they would never be seen again. Which is part of the reason previously unknown works of his pop-up from time to time.

    His life and more importantly his love life made him all the more suspicious as did his fairly ignominious decline and death.

    For several centuries Caravaggio's work was and to some extent still is, seen not as pious art but as at best unorthodox or at worst outright blasphemous. A whole pseudo-science has evolved to try to read the subtle subversive sexual and homosexual messages which it is believed his work contains, rightly or wrongly. The notion that he was a secular artist making secular social or irreligious statements while being forced to use a religious iconography is accepted art historical dogma among many people. The extent to which Caravaggio as a person and his art too have been coopted by counter-cultural revisions of art history is considerable.

    All of this is primarily the result of the reactions to his paintings of a few Cardinals and other prelates who were deeply paranoid about insuring their own strictly counter-reformation credentials at a time when scrutiny of them had never been more intense.

    If you compare Caravaggio's paintings to those of the artists of the few generations before him and especially to Michelangelo you see that he is in fact in a continuum of representational style, representing divinity according to the notion that God created man in his own image, and playing out religious ideas and pious concepts through a devotional language which would have made perfect sense to the Church of a century earlier.

    And Michelangelo's art is even more instructive because while it continued in spite of the counter-reformation to be seen as deeply pious and divinely inspired despite clear possible readings to the contrary, and continues to be seen in that way to this day, Caravaggio's has never been given quite the same attribution. The reason is that the church which commissioned Michelangelo outright said that his work was divine not blasphemous, that it was pious not profane, and even elevated it to the most sacred spaces of the Roman Catholic church rather than hiding it away in gloomy dusty monasteries and neglected churches out of shame. The two artists in fact worked in a very similar visual idiom and Caravaggio made no secret that he emulated and idolised Michelangelo and yet cultural changes had made Caravaggio's use of the same manner of depiction blasphemous and questionable while Michelangelo's was considered to be in the tongue of the cherubs.

    That these ideas persist in how people view both artist's work to this day is testament to how much of how we view art has nothing to do with the personal or subjective and a hell of a lot to do with the collective and the application of social or cultural standards which have nothing to do with individual response.
     
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